I’m pretty obsessed with organisational psychology, for an organisation of exactly one person.
One of my favourite podcasts I use an an introduction to workplace culture tweaks to follow up on in more depth is Eat, Sleep, Work Repeat. This week’s episode introduced me to the apparently oxymoronic ‘silent meeting’.
Essentially silent meetings are far more consciously facilitated than your average meeting towards the outcome direction, and allow far more time for concentrated thought. Not only are they an interesting new way of doing things, I think they are fairly pragmatic in their accommodation of human behaviour.
How Silent Meetings run
- They kick off with a ‘Table Read’. This is a google doc prepared by the meeting initiator in advance which covers all the background context and problem at hand. Each participant then reads and thinks about it in silence yet adds comments and questions where they have them directly in the document. Others can then jump in and add thoughts and questions too, in real time. This takes as long as necessary.
- A Meeting Facilitator (who need not be external to the organisational at all) then synthesises all the comments and guides the then verbal discussion to cover the key points flagged on docs during the Table Read and achieve the outcomes that the meeting needed to achieve.
Problems with regular meetings that they address
I don’t ever attend the corporate style meeting that Silent Meetings were invented to fix, so I’ve never had to truly experience the scale of their lack of direction…. but these are the three problems found in regular 4 or more person meetings in different sectors or smaller organisations that I think silent meetings address.
- Ahead of meetings at least 50% of people do not do any of the contextual prep, whether that involved taking their own initiative or simply reading what they’d been sent. It’s probably even higher. This means that there’s a weird different level of cognitive engagement and how up to date people are when you kick off a traditional verbal meeting, which definitely slows it up and can lead to not very well thought through suggestions.
- Lots of people struggle to give their best at more traditional verbally-led meetings; whether thats because of various neurodiversities in processing, confidence levels or characteristics (like just existing as a woman) that often lead to them being shut out of overlapping discussion. Silent Meetings create a different space for various voices to have their say.
- As a result of 1 and perhaps 2, there will be one or more people who try and drag the meeting off onto unhelpful tangents (as opposed to insights and challenges to conventional wisdom branded as tangents. These are good). Tangents are contained in Silent Meetings both literally by the facilitator not letting the verbal discussion flow completely off topic, and by the Table Read comments letting many tangents and lines of questions flow at the same time and be addressed yet everyone also be able to absorb, which isn’t possible through table or whole room conversations.
Putting it into your own practice
If you’re interested to try it out I’d recommend two things.
- Using this template for a Table Read. Make a copy in your own google docs and adapt headings as necessary to your organisation or problem.
- Take a far more detailed dive into the running of them (especially the role of the facilitator, which I haven’t covered much here) by reading David Gasca’s very helpful Silent Meeting Manifesto v1.
Small disclaimer: if a side goal of the meeting really is to fully explore tangents and/or to build raport and relationships with the people involved then Silent Meetings probably aren’t a helpful mechanism towards those goals.